In English-speaking countries, a blue-collar worker is a working class person who performs non-agricultural manual labour. Blue-collar work may involve skilled or unskilled manufacturing, mining, sanitation, custodial work, oil field work, construction, mechanical maintenance, warehousing, firefighting, technical installation and many other types of physical work. Often something is physically being built or maintained.
In contrast, the white-collar worker typically performs work in an office environment and may involve sitting at a computer or desk. A third type of work is a service worker (pink collar) whose labour is related to customer interaction, entertainment, sales or other service-oriented work. Many occupations blend blue, white or pink industry categorizations.
Blue-collar work is often paid hourly wage-labor, although some professionals may be paid by the project or salaried. There is a wide range of payscales for such work depending upon field of specialty and experience.
Industrial and manual workers often wear durable canvas or cotton clothing that may be soiled during the course of their work. Navy and light blue colors conceal potential dirt or grease on the worker's clothing, helping him or her to appear cleaner. For the same reason, blue is a popular color for boilersuits which protect a worker's clothing. Some blue collar workers have uniforms with the name of the business or the individual's name embroidered or printed on it.
Historically the popularity of the color blue among manual labourers contrasts with the popularity of white dress shirts worn by people in office environments. The blue collar/white collar color scheme has socio-economic class connotations. However, this distinction has become blurred with the increasing importance of skilled labour, and the relative increase in low-paying white-collar jobs.
The term blue collar was first used in reference to trades jobs in 1924, Alden, Iowa newspaper.
A higher level academic education is often not required for many blue-collar jobs. However, certain fields may require specialized training, licensing or certification as well as a high school diploma or GED.
With the information revolution, Western nations have moved towards a service and white collar economy. Many manufacturing jobs have been offshored to developing nations which pay their workers lower wages. This offshoring has pushed formerly agrarian nations to industrialized economies and concurrently decreased the number of blue-collar jobs in developed countries.
In the United States, blue collar and service occupations generally refer to jobs in precision production, craft, and repair occupations; machine operators and inspectors; transportation and moving occupations; handlers, equipment cleaners, helpers, and laborers.
In the United States an area known as the Rust Belt comprising the Northeast and Midwest, including Western New York and Western Pennsylvania, has seen its once large manufacturing base shrink significantly. With the de-industrialization of these areas starting in the mid-1960s cities like Cleveland, Ohio; Detroit, Michigan; Buffalo, New York; Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania; Erie, Pennsylvania; Youngstown, Ohio; Toledo, Ohio, Rochester, New York, and Saint Louis, Missouri, have experienced a steady decline of the blue-collar workforce and subsequent population decreases. Due to this economic osmosis, the rust belt has experienced high unemployment, poverty, and urban blight.
"Blue-collar" can be used as an adjective to describe the environment of the blue-collar worker such as a "blue-collar" neighborhood, restaurant, or bar.